When you’ve sold 50 million records worldwide, including 14 number ones, been a six-times recipient of the Ivor Novello Award, fronted one of the world’s biggest pop bands, twice, and received an OBE, you could be forgiven for allowing yourself to live a little. Yet there’s nothing excessive about Gary Barlow who is as humble as the Cheshire boy who set out to pursue his love of music at 15.
As we settle poolside at Juicy Oasis to chat about life, an insane schedule – which means these are Gary’s last few days off until June 2017 – diet, fitness and wellbeing, it’s clear he is as grounded as they come.
With the pick of the world’s greatest hotels at his fingertips, what brings Gary to Juicy Oasis, to detox and spend his precious downtime enjoying yoga and walks? It’s my first question.
“I came in February and I’d never done a week of juicing before,” he explains. “Previously I’d tried three days using one of your books and I found it really, really hard. I was working and I had to make my juices in the mornings and put them in flasks, and I found it a complete pain. I was disappointed in myself having bailed half way through, and our tour manager kept talking about Juicy Oasis.”
“I’d never done a retreat before and I was intrigued, scared and nervous but determined I was going to get through it. I came with the idea of losing a bit of weight and doing the juice week, and by the end I realised they were the least important things.”
“Two big things were getting rid of my phone and technologically checking-out of life for a week. But the biggest thing was being able to completely clear my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do it in my life, and for the first time in 45 years I really stopped and thought, ‘This week is mine, this is for me’.”
Having returned for a second visit just six months later, Gary describes Juicy Oasis as life-changing, which seems curious to anyone looking at his enormous success. “Coming here, I didn’t want to change my life,” says Gary, “but the one thing that I realise, six months later, is the advantage of having these weeks through the year where you check-out.”
“Your work’s better, you’re a better person – with the kids, as a husband, at your job – when you find the skill of checking-out. Even an hour a day is enough, to read, do yoga – they’re activities but the idea is to give your mind a rest.” Both mentally and physically, Juicy Oasis has created massive change to Gary’s life, and he says he has embraced yoga since his first visit and that this now forms a regular part of his fitness regime. “I never really got the yoga thing,” he says. “It was always a bit slow for me as I’m one of those people who puts on their sports gear and wants to be sweating in four minutes. I want to hit it as hard as I can because it’s my hour of the day”. “Being at Juicy Oasis, I had many yoga classes and slowly the benefits hit me until I realised I needed it in my life. Now I do 50 per cent hard training, 50 per cent yoga.”
Like many of us, Gary’s experience shows that we achieve optimum results when our mind and body work in tandem, although he explains that for him juicing is a tool, not a rule, and something he turns to as a boost before a major event or as a recharge.
“I’m not a massive juicer but I love to use it as a momentum builder – I did it just before we played Hyde Park. It flattens the road again so all of your tastebuds go back to being neutral. It’s brilliant if you’ve got a big event coming up, such as a wedding. Juicing for three or four days makes you sharper and your skin better.”
Although he juices intermittently, Gary’s diet is balanced and healthy, ensuring he stays in great shape and has the energy to maintain his intense schedule.
“I cook dinner every night and during the autumn it’s stew time when it’s cold outside,” he says. “I slow cook and the oven is on for most of the day. My go-to healthy meals are dahls cooked with water and spices. They’re so easy and tasty. I’ll use puy lentils, split red lentils for speed, or mung beans soaked overnight; they’re delicious.”
It’s a long way from Gary’s less healthy days, when he struggled with his weight which he openly says reflected his unhappy state-of-mind. “It was almost a body armour that I put on,” he says. “Like most people who gain weight, it was down to many reasons.“
“I’d unofficially lost my job as I’d lost my record deal, so I was redundant at 24 and it was very young to think, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’ I became a father for the first time and there was an intense moment of feeling very responsible.“
“I was getting recognised a lot, and it wasn’t for the right reasons – people would look at me and say, ‘Are you alright?’ and tilt their head, as if in sympathy. My fall was such a public one. “The more weight I put on, fewer people recognised me, so by the time that I was 17 ½ stone (245lbs) I wasn’t getting bothered and it was bliss!“
“I was out of shape for three or four years, but I wasn’t very happy or mobile – I had to do the momentum roll to get out of bed. I’m not a tall guy so when the weight went on it showed. Thinking back, people were less aware of health and wellbeing ten years ago, and so it was quite hard to get to grips with. I grabbed the diet books, threw myself into lots of exercise and running, and I lost the first three stone quite quickly. “Then Take That reformed and the rest went without really doing anything – I’m now down to 11 ½ stone (161lbs).”
In great shape this go-round, Gary loves sharing healthy diet tips with his fellow bandmates. “I eat by far the best,” says Gary. “I give the others tips and as I’ve got older it’s become a passion of mine to feel good. The way I feel at the end of my stay at Juicy Oasis is my benchmark – I feel so clean.”
”The recharge is much needed before Gary starts to spin the plates again. Having written for radio and film, five years ago he teamed up with lifelong friend and playwright Tim Firth to write a musical, The Girls, which comes to the West End in February. “I’ve also had the Take That musical in development for about 18 months,” he says, “with 25 years of our music in one show. At about the same time as I realised I needed five guys”, I was approached by the BBC and we’ve created a new talent show, Shine, putting singers into bands to compete against each other.
“At the end, the winners will have an eight-shows-a-week, year-long tour to perform around the UK. They’re going to learn what it’s like to go on the road and become a band.”
The show’s instant fame is a far cry from Gary’s path to success, which came about after many years of performing in bars and clubs, and five years with Take That before they got a lucky break with Gary’s demo of A Million Love Songs. “I wrote that song when I was 15,” he says. “I was playing in clubs and at the time I didn’t realise I was learning the DNA of a wealth of classic love songs. I didn’t really know what love was when I wrote it, but I was regurgitating all the stuff that had gone into my system and out came this song that has stood the test of time, and hasn’t changed one bit since.”
Happy, healthy and with a raft of projects ahead, Gary says his mindset today would never allow him to get overweight again. “I would see that as losing. I always thought, ‘I’ve got a really pretty wife, and she’s stuck with this overweight guy who wasn’t who she married’. I didn’t like being like that, and I don’t know anyone who does.”
Staying in shape, eating healthily and looking after his state of mind keep Gary feeling fantastic and, just like his hit track, this version of his life is back for good.